Society for Conservation of Nature

MY ROLE AS DFO IN CONSERVING HILLS AND HILLOCKS OUTSIDE THE RF

MY ROLE AS DFO IN CONSERVING THE HILLS AND HILLOCKS OUTSIDE THE RF

(This article has appeared in Namathu Vanam, a quarterly magazine (Jan 2018 -March 2018) launched this month by Tamil Nadu Association of Senior Professionals of Environment and Forests (TASPEF) )

While I was working as the District Forest Officer (DFO), Kanyakumari Forest division, this incident took place sometime during 2010. It was a Sunday. Since I used to be very busy during the weekdays, I could find time mostly on weekends only for my field inspection. That day I was heading towards Kodayar along the Nagercoil-Azhagiyapandipiuram road. While we were travelling somewhere near Erachakulam, a small village, casually I turned towards my left on the Western direction. By seeing a few earth movers (JCBs) on the top of a hillock, I was very much surprised. I told my driver to look in the direction and find out. He too confirmed the same. Immediately I instructed him to take the vehicle to the hillock. Within ten minutes, we reached the hillock. The extent of the hillock may be about 40 hectares. Of course the hillock was about 3 kilo metres away from the nearest RF. Two tipper trucks loaded with earth and one more with boulders were readily waiting there for departure. By seeing that, I became a bit angry as a natural ecosystem is in   danger. Though I tried to hide my temperament on my face, my talk with the concerned fellows naturally revealed it. On my interrogation, one fellow showed me an order signed by the District Collector allowing removal of earth and boulders from the specific survey number. But nothing was mentioned about the landscape as a hillock in the order. Our discreet enquiry revealed that three Doctors have bought the hillock and tried to build a college after destroying the hillock by way of removing the earth and the boulders. There is very good demand for earth and boulders in Kanyakumari district and mostly transported to the nearby Kerala state.

I tried to contact the Collector over my mobile. His number was busy. Then I tried to contact the Assistant Director of Mines. His number was not reachable. Then I tried to contact the Thasildar.  Luckily he came on line. When I enquired him about the permission given for removal of earth and boulders by destroying a hillock near Erachakulam, he said that he had joined only a week back and yet to see the spot. In the mean time, Collector came on line. When I narrated him about the order issued by him for destruction of a hillock near Erachakulam village for construction of a college and the violations noticed in implementation of the Hill Area conservation Authority (HACA), he requested me to inform the proceeding number and date. He said, being Sunday that day, he would verify it the next day and take suitable action.

The next day I had gone over to the Collector’s office to attend a meeting. While I was waiting in the conference hall, one Office Assistant came to me and informed that the Collector wanted me to come over to his chamber. I met the Collector in his chamber. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, Collector told me that he was not guided properly in that matter and hence cancels the order forthwith.

HACA is in vogue in many of the districts which are close to the Western and Eastern Ghats. For carrying out any developmental activity in this region, one should take permission from the Director of Country and Town Planning. Even to construct a building of more than 800 square metres, due permission is very much required. The Committee under HACA headed by the Director as the Chairman has the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and the Chairman, Pollution Control Board as the members. Whatever application is received requesting permission from the HACA authorities, will be forwarded to the   District Forest Officer for inspection and report.

There is one Dr.Lalmohan, a noted Environmentalist and Convener of the ‘Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage’ (INTACH) in Nagercoil. He is a good friend of mine. I discussed this matter with him and within a week time he organised a seminar on the topic ‘Conservation of Hills and Hillocks’. The seminar was to be inaugurated by the Collector and the key note address to be delivered by me. Since the Collector had some urgent programme at Trivandrum on that day, I had the opportunity of inaugurating the seminar at the Notary Public Hall, Nagercoil.

The gist of my inaugural address may throw some light on the topic. “Hills and hillocks become one of the important terrestrial ecosystems.  We have to clearly recognize the difference between the hills and hillocks. While Yercaud hills, Kolli hills, Sirumalai hills, Kodai hills, etc., are called hills, Thirupparankundram, Senkundram, Nerkundram, Pazhanai malai (where Pazhaniyandavar temple is located), Viralimalai, etc., are hillocks. Though generally mountains, hills and hillocks are called Malai in Tamil, they have got their own difference.  In Tamil Nadu state, there may be about one thousand hillocks. Hills and hillocks play a crucial role by providing valuable ecosystem services. With the available soil, air and water they support a variety of plants and animals including microorganisms. Thus, they not only provide shelter for various species of animals, birds, reptiles, insects and microorganisms through the grasses, herbs, shrubs, climbers, creepers and trees that have grown on them, but also absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen,  conserve the soil and water in addition to moderate the climate of the particular region. When we have hills and hillocks, the plant community on them harvest the rain water and store underneath. The rain water is gradually released as springs, finally taking the shapes of streamlets, streams, rivulets and rivers.  These water bodies make the area fertile wherever they pass through. Eventually when they join the sea, they provide life to the marine organisms besides carrying valuable minerals with them. Only an Environmentalist, Ecologist, Naturalist or Scientist can understand all these intricacies. But, fortunately many hillocks are the abodes of Gods of various religions like Hinduism, Christianity, Jainism and Islam. Because of the spiritual protection, they are safe to a certain extent. We must be ever thankful to our ancestors in this regard”.

During 2015, when I had gone over to Kanyakumari for monitoring the activities carried out in Kanyakumari Forest Division under TBGP, I was happy to notice the hillock in the very same condition.

Even now, many hillocks have been vandalized by the greedy quarry contractors of the districts like Madurai, Kanyakumari, etc. Certain hillocks have been notified by the Revenue authorities as water bodies in district like Madurai.  For example, the Pancha Pandavar hillock, an archaeological site has been listed in the revenue records of Madurai district as a water tank in Keezhavalavu panchayat. Likewise, as the hillock with Jain stone beds dated back to 2nd century BC has not been entered in the Prohibitory Order Book (POB), this hillock has been quarried, even after repeated representations by Keezhavalavu Panchayat President to the Collectors.

The need of the hour is to preserve and protect such isolated hills and hillocks that bear unique cultural, historical, biological and heritage values and for them to continue to provide the ecosystem services for the benefit of mankind.

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PERUMALMALAI(A HILLOCK)IN THURAIYUR

sirumalai-hills

 

 SIRUMALAI(A HILL) IN DINDIGUL

 

V.SUNDARARAJU.IFS,

FORMER DCF, TRICHY-17.